A New Russia Collusion Angle: George Nader

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Last night the New York Times reported that George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, is cooperating with the Mueller investigation and gave testimony last week to a grand jury.

The reason why this is significant is that Nader was actually present at two meetings that could be key in proving that the Trump campaign conspired with Russians (and possibly other foreign governments), not simply to influence the election, but on U.S. foreign policy. The first meeting Nader attended occurred at Trump Tower in December, during the transition period, and included Mohammed bin Zayed (known as MBZ), Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Jared Kushner. The meeting aroused suspicion because MBZ breached protocol in failing to notify the Obama administration of his visit to the U.S.

It is worth noting another meeting at Trump Tower that took place at about the same time.

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

A few days after that, Kushner met with Sergei N. Gorkov, a Russian banker with close ties to Putin.

The other meeting Nader attended was held around January 11, just days before the inauguration. It is the clandestine meeting arranged by the United Arab Emirates in the Seychelles islands. At that one, Nader was representing MBZ, while Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian investor, represented Putin and Erik Prince was there on behalf of the Trump team. The connection is that Nader had once worked as a consultant to Prince’s company Blackwater, a private security firm now known as Academi. Here is what the Washington Post reported about that meeting back in April 2016:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

…Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

One thing seems clear now: running from right after the election all the way through January 2017, there were several attempts to set up back channel communications between Trump and Moscow that would bypass this country’s national security apparatus. The first came during Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. That was followed by the two meetings described above.

Jared Kushner was up to his eyeballs in all of this at the same time that his family business had gone in search of foreign investment in their failing 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York City. Just recently we learned that at least four countries have discussed ways that Kushner could be manipulated because of that, as well as his lack of experience in foreign affairs. One of those countries is the United Arab Emirates. The Washington Post story on that pointed this out:

H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s national security adviser, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report.

Apparently those contacts are of interest to Robert Mueller.

Mueller has also asked numerous witnesses about how the president’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, set up calls with foreign leaders and whether he bypassed normal protocols that kept records of the contacts and the content of the discussions.

There is a whole other line of thought about why Mueller would be interested in Nader that has to do with the possibility of illegal foreign campaign contributions. Those would precede these meetings, given that they occurred after the election. Back channel lines of communication that would escape the scrutiny of U.S. intelligence services is much more likely to be Mueller’s focus. We don’t know at this point what the Trump team wanted to talk about over those back channels. But investments in the family businesses in exchange for sanctions relief and/or a foreign policy favorable to the investor seems to be an emerging theme. And it might relate to the exchange of information on campaign influencing.